Guest Column

Martinez's stunt on Senate floor is unacceptable

By Eduardo Montalvo
Both Worlds
10 Feb 2005     

Something unprecedented happened last week at the U.S. Senate. During his first speech of his Senate career, Sen. Mel Martinez addressed the Senate in Spanish.

This part of the speech stunned the Senate stenographer, who was only able to type "speaking in Spanish" into the record as Martinez delivered his speech. Everyone else was astonished with this unexpected speech.

For more than 200 years, senators addressed the Senate in English, out of respect for their fellow senators, their constituents and every American who did not speak their language.

It is true that the U.S. Senate represents people with all kinds of ancestries. It is also true that America is a collage of people with different cultures and languages, but we have to understand that English is the language spoken in government, politics, media and business. No one has the right to change this, even a U.S. senator. If we let every senator address the Senate in their ancestral languages, debate would be almost impossible.

In my opinion, English should be our common language. It is the amalgam that allows people from so many diverse origins to come together and represent this great nation.

Speaking English is an inclusive gesture toward our diverse citizenry. Spanish may be the native language of many Americans, but it is a language that includes only some, and alienates most.

I believe we have to aim for national unity, not for separation by language barriers.

I have spoken Spanish all my life. I think, feel and dream in that language. But since I've lived in this great country, I've been giving my best effort to learn the English language. I understood, since the very beginning, that this is the way to become integrated, the way to prosper and the way to be an equal citizen... an American.

As I always say, "My English is still under construction," and maybe I will end my days trying to master it, but there is no excuse for not learning it.

Everyone must learn it, at least learn its basic principles in order to be able to communicate with others who don't speak Spanish, that are, by the way, the vast majority of the population in this country.

I am always doing business with people from all over the world, and thanks to the common use of English, we are capable to conduct our business successfully.

But believe it or not, English is not the official language of the United States of America.

Only 27 states have English as their official language, and several more are considering similar legislation.

I believe the recognition of English as the official language will help to expand opportunities for immigrants to learn and speak English, the single greatest empowering tool that immigrants must have to succeed. Immigrants who are not proficient in English always pay a price; they earn less and live in poorer conditions than those who do speak it.

I know most Hispanics must be very happy with Martinez's stunt, but for me, it was an unfortunate political maneuver. This divides the nation in two halves, into Spanish speakers and the rest of the population.

It is true that he won, in part, thanks to the support of the Hispanic voters of Florida, but he can't forget he has a commitment with all of the constituents in this state. It doesn't matter what native language or origin they have. Under all perspectives, this part of his speech is unacceptable.!

Let us hope that Sen. Melquiades Martinez's speech was a once-in-a-lifetime spectacular act.

I did support Martinez during his race for the Senate. I did believe he was the right choice for us, but now doubts are beginning to arise.
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Eduardo Montalvo is an Osceola County, Florida real estate agent and frequent contributor to Hispanic publications in Central Florida. Contact at edmontalvo@comcast.net